New COVID-19 Challenges Prolong McLean Sweet Leaf Zoning Saga

The coronavirus pandemic is posing new challenges to a McLean restaurant’s years-long efforts to add two more parking spaces to meet Fairfax County regulations.

Before the pandemic, Sweet Leaf Cafe and its landlord, Juliano Properties, were working to submit the required parking information to county staff earlier this year, Juliano’s attorney told the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals today.

Sweet Leaf (1359 Old Chain Bridge Road) temporarily closed after Gov. Ralph Northam ordered restaurants to close their seating and issued a stay-at-home order in March, and now the restaurant and landlord face financial challenges, the attorney said.

The Board of Zoning Appeals again delayed the restaurant’s and landlord’s appeals of the zoning violation after county staff said that the pandemic is putting a financial strain on the restaurant.

Most of the discussion today about the appeal rehashed the nearly five-year-long effort to resolve the restaurant’s zoning violations.

In late 2015, the restaurant got hit with zoning violations following a complaint about a lack of parking. A zoning ordinance update a few years ago addressed one of the violations, but still leaves the restaurant non-compliant with the parking requirement, which is based on the building’s square footage. Currently, the restaurant has 12 of the 14 required parking spaces.

Sweet Leaf’s Co-Founder Andre Matini told the zoning board in March that finding the additional two parking spaces has been challenging.

Now, the new financial hurdles are also impacting the situation.

“We have not been able to front that cost,” the attorney said today about the engineering firm Juliano hired to assess the parking situation. “We need time for the resources to be mustered.”

St. Clair Williams, a county staffer, said that once the engineering firm submits information, the rest of the process should be “fairly smooth.”

The zoning board, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust and county staff have said they don’t want to force the restaurant to close. At the same time, county officials have expressed frustration this year about how long the compliance process is taking.

“I think 15 [delays] in four years on one case — something isn’t working,” James Hart, a zoning board member, said today.

The zoning board unanimously voted to delay consideration of the appeals to Nov. 4.

While Sweet Leaf did not have a representative at the meeting today, the landlord’s attorney and Williams assured the zoning board that the restaurant will be OK with the delay to November.

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